Max Siker/BadgerNation

5 Questions: Nebraska Versus Wisconsin

Five questions regarding Wisconsin for publisher Ben Worgull.

1.) Losing linebacker Jack Cichy is obviously a big blow from a production standpoint, but what about mentally for the defense?

"Wisconsin is losing a player who has accumulated 43 tackles, five tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hurries since Big Ten play started. Few teams in the country can snap their fingers and make a player who can equal those numbers appear. While he likely won’t be able to match Cichy’s numbers, presence and experience, Ryan Connelly has already stepped in during a pinch and made an impact on the defense.

In the season opener against No.5 LSU, starting inside linebacker Chris Orr was injured on the first defensive play. In stepped Connelly, who more than held his own with a number of solo tackles on Tigers tailback Leonhard Fournette and started in week two. With Cichy out, Connelly will likely step into the starting role for the final five games of the season.

Even with the injury to Cichy, the mentality of the defense has been the same, next man in. Wisconsin has gone through a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball, mainly on defense, and the Badgers have still knocked off two top-10 teams, fell to the No.4 team on the road by seven and dropped a game to the No.2 team at home in overtime. It’s a gritty defense that has been able to keep ticking along because of its depth."

2.) Alex Hornibrook or Bart Houston? Should we expect to see both again on Saturday

"Programs that use two quarterbacks typically have a distinct reason for doing so. Typically it’s for a change of pace, with one quarterback being a pocket passer and the other being a dual-threat option. Wisconsin’s apparent two quarterback system with redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook and fifth-year senior Bart Houston is nowhere near those comparisons considering they are both pocket passers and don’t do anything out of the ordinary the other couldn’t do.

Head coach Paul Chryst continues on the narrative that Wisconsin will need the duo to be ready for the offense to reach its full potential, meaning it’s likely both will be used Saturday.

Houston started the first three games, beating No.5 LSU, Akron and Georgia State. But after Hornibrook provided a boost to the offense after he was inserted into the lineup in the second half of a 23-17 victory over Georgia State, Chryst made the change to Hornibrook for the Big Ten opener at Michigan State.

In his first four starts Hornibrook has won two road games and had to seven-point losses to top-four teams. 

Houston did not play in UW’s first four league games but got two series at Iowa. He finished 4 of 6 for 59 yards and a touchdown and picked up a first down with an 8-yard run. Hornibrook finished 11 of 19 for 197 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass, but his 57-yard completion that set up a 1-yard plunge.

There are subtle differences between the two. Houston has the stronger arm and is more nimble, while Hornibrook throws a better deep ball and has shown to be more accurate. Barring injury, Wisconsin will likely stick with Hornibrook as the starter but it feels like both quarterbacks will see the field."

3.) Wisconsin is a team that has had three tough weeks, between match-ups with Michigan, Ohio State and rival Iowa. Do you worry about the Badgers having to get up for another big game? 

"This is the first time in school history Wisconsin will have faced five top-10 opponents in one season and we’re not even into November. That list doesn’t include Iowa, which is usually a physical slugfest between two teams that like power-I football and are blue collared defensively. It may sound cliché, but Wisconsin has done a good job of moving on from a big win or a tough loss by the start of the next week, allowing themselves to be immersed in the game plan and not look back. 

While mentally UW has been fine, the biggest issue is the health a lot of positions. Will Wisconsin be able to pick themselves off the mat for another physical grindt? Considering UW is now thin at a number positions, mainly inside linebacker and offensive line, I think the big concern is how the Badgers are physically."

4.) Where do you think Wisconsin has the edge of Nebraska? 

"Considering Nebraska’s schedule, not to mention the fact the Huskers have beaten only two teams that are currently over .500, Wisconsin’s defense should be able to have an upper hand on a Nebraska offense that is banged up at some key positions. The front seven of Wisconsin needs to provide adequate pressure on Tommy Armstrong and keep him in the pocket. It helps that UW faced Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett two weeks ago, a dual-threat quarterback that got some hits against the Badgers defense. Having seen that first hand and studying that tape, Wisconsin should be better prepared for Armstrong."

5.) Your biggest key to the game and prediction? 

"Purdue’s David Blough threw for 309 yards against the Huskers last weekend and Indiana’s two signal callers combined for 245 yards against Nebraska two weekends ago. As important as it is for Wisconsin to establish the run, which would space out the defense and create some favorable matchups, the Badgers quarterbacks need to be able to throw the ball against the Nebraska defense that ranks 10th in the Big Ten in pass defense and be smart with their throws against a defense that has picked off 13 passes.

Over the last five years, Wisconsin has matched up well with Nebraska and have dominated this series, especially in Madison. I think too many people are dismissive of Nebraska because the 7-0 record has not come against a murderer’s row of teams. Wisconsin certainly isn’t one of them. Even though the Badgers are banged up, they are battled tested and tough at home. I like Wisconsin to win this game and cover the spread."

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